Growing up I always had some questions: what is my purpose for living? What is the meaning of life? Why on earth do I exist? These questions would swirl around in my head, gnawing at me, as I searched for answers. I didn’t really study up on it much; I just thought about it…a lot. After mind twisting for years, the only answer I was ever able to come up with was this: I was obviously created for a reason, (and my father had explained to me the concept of Tikkun Olam: repairing the world). So I decided that it must be I was supposed to do something important in this world. But to do what? This was still unclear, but I knew I was put here to do something. Here’s the thing though, when one decides this, then the logical conclusion is: If my purpose in this world is contingent on that which I accomplish…then, if I don’t…will I still be worthy?
Unfortunately, many young people today are dealing with this same struggle: wondering what one must do to accomplish their worth. I even remember one person saying to me, that if they don’t accomplish something, they will be worthless. They said, “I’m only worth as much as I do.” If we think this way, where is our self worth along the way? In other words, do we have none, until we accomplish something?
My childhood solution: I was to be famous. That’s right. If my worth was based on actions, what better action than one that would be known by all?
I actually thought that it was just a matter of time before the whole world knew my name. I wasn’t sure for what exactly (writer? model? girl who saved the world?) but I was certain they’d know it. In the meantime though, I was troubled deeply. In what way would I make myself famous? What could I do to set me apart from the rest? This question tormented me because it meant figuring out some talent that would get me to the top. And on top of that, I hadn’t a clue where to start.
When I got to high school, I began to understand my urge for fame more. I realized that at my core, I had a need to be immortal. My definition of immortal could be summed up as one who achieved something worthy of still speaking about them even after they died. It became clear to me that I didn’t care what I did, as long as it linked immortality with my name. Hence, my need to be famous. So this became my “belief system”: if I did not do something worthy of being remembered, and by many, I was not valuable or worthy. As they say in CBT (cognitive behavioral theory) this was my cognitive distortion. I had made it a rule and I intended to live up to this truth.
Fast-forwarding some, I go to college, and I come to the conclusion that, actually, no, I did not want to be famous, after all. I mean, I liked the idea of being known by many, but famous people, seemed pretty miserable. They were always getting divorced and getting into drugs. No, that was not for me. However, giving up fame wasn’t the whole battle. I still wanted a meaningful life and to discover my purpose. So…I started learning things. Things like The Secret. I tried using positive thoughts to create my reality. I looked into Buddhism (only through reading) and spoke with people. It was the first time I was exposed to anything that used the word spirituality and an all-knowing Universe and I liked it.
Also around that time, I met the on-campus rabbi while inquiring about a trip to Israel on Birthright. For interviewing purposes, he invited my friend and I to his home. We began discussing concepts such as relationships, God, and a meaningful life. I remember the rabbi saying, “I am searching for my mission and my purpose in this world.” I couldn’t believe my ears! I had never met anyone who cared about their purpose in life, or at least not that way I did. I was thrilled just to hear the words come out of his mouth! Was this purpose thing actually in my religion? In the same Judaism I grew up with? Who knew?
I began to look into it. Over the next few years, I discovered The Real Secret. The one hidden in our very own Torah. The one that teaches us why we exist.
When I learned about our Creator and the world He created for us, I learned a lot about my own existence.
I knew, that God could have made any type of person in the world. In fact, He didn’t have to make people at all. However, He did. He created people and not only did He create people, but He created ME and He created YOU! The Infinite One, the Master Maker of our World, could have made anything He wanted, but He chose to make us!
When I learned this, I understood something I had been misconstruing for a long time: I didn’t have to accomplish something in order to be have self worth. I already had it!
Torah taught me that I have worth, just because God created me! That’s it. End of story. My self worth was innately within me from the very start. That meant, that no matter what I did, no matter how much I accomplished, I was worth something.
Even more than that, when Hashem created Jews, He created us in His image, in His likeness. If Hashem is All Powerful and Infinite, then He is clearly worthy. If we were created in Hashem’s likeness, then we too must be worthy.
Now don’t get me wrong, we still have a whole lot to do in this world, and plenty to accomplish- but that won’t determine our self worth. It’s already been predetermined. When we were born, we were born with worth! It’s a done deal.
I share this, because I want YOU to know that you too have worth. Whether you get that CEO position you have your sights set on or you secure that place as senior editor, whether your band makes it to the top or you write five books…you’re worth it. You are valuable just because you exist. It’s time we stop placing our precious self worth on the things we do and start placing it where it’s meant to be placed: as an inevitable given. Just like the air we breathe, it won’t go away and it is contingent on nothing at all. It just is. Enjoy that truth. There are not many things in this life we don’t have to work for, consider it a freebie!
I still think about my struggles with fame and purpose sometimes. I even still struggle with them (a lot). But the thing is, being immortal isn’t my goal anymore. I now know that I am alive for a bigger journey; for a bigger purpose. I’m in this world for what I will bring with me to the next world, not what I leave behind me in this one.
More often than not, the things that are our true “accomplishments” according to the Torah view, are not necessarily grand or noteworthy to others. They’re usually smaller acts, like the ones we do to help us grow as people. Those accomplishments might not make the news or put us on billboards, but they’ll be plenty valuable when I’m facing Hashem at the end of my 120 years.
I love meditating on the fact that the Infinite One created me. It reminds me, even when I’m struggling, that I was created by Hashem and I am worth it.